The title Boiler Room is not meant to be taken literally, of course, but this smart tale of greed in the stock trade indeed reaches a figurative boil. First-time writer-director Ben Younger sets his film off like a rocket, propelled by his and his eager cast's energy and skill. It's unfortunate that the boiling point is reached prematurely, but while the film's forceful momentum wanes, it never completely fades away.
Greed is hardly a fresh topic for a movie, in particular in the Wall Street arena; most notably in Oliver Stone's Wall Street. Boiler Room cannot help but recall that film, and Younger even cheekily references it in one amusing scene; he also pays homage to what can be deemed the film's other "cross" (as in "Wall Street crossed with..."): Glengarry Glen Ross, written for the stage and screen by David Mamet. Glengarry's mantra of "always be closing" is used by the young sharks working for Boiler's J.T. Marlin, a scrappy brokerage firm that aggressively pushes stock shares on unsuspecting buyers. Little do these buyers--and, for that matter, the sellers--know that the shares are in companies that do not exist.
When the film's main character, hungry "boiler room" (so named for the pressure cooker atmosphere and cramped space where the brokers work) up-and-comer Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi) discovers that little fact, Boiler Room turns into a fairly pedestrian morality play; will he do the right thing and take the firm down, or will he just stick with it and the illegally-obtained money that comes along with the ride? The film--and Younger--is clearly at their best in the early stages, which drops the audience, along with Seth, in the thick of the high-stakes action. Younger clearly did his homework on the subject, and the authenticity he brings to the dialogue and the atmosphere makes for riveting viewing.
When taking a few steps away from the office, Younger runs into some problems. Much like how the story's turn is rather humdrum, so is the central conflict between Seth and his judge father (Ron Rifkin); ne'er-do-well Seth--who, before hooking up with J.T. Marlin, ran a card casino out of his apartment--wants nothing more than to win his uptight father's respect, and this bit of melodrama is too contrived to completely work. Nonetheless, this subplot is kept watchable and somewhat involving by the performances of Rifkin and especially Ribisi.
Ribisi rebounds nicely from a terrible 1999 (Remember The Other Sister and The Mod Squad? Hopefully not), providing a likable and magnetic anchor in the often frenzied goings-on. Everyone in the cast makes a lasting impression; standing out in the boiler room are Vin Diesel and Nicky Katt as more seasoned hotshots, and Ben Affleck is wonderfully oily in the small role of the firm's head recruiter. As J.T. Marlin's receptionist, Abby, the talented--if underused--Nia Long is able to come off as more than the film's token injection of estrogen and Seth's love interest.
While the energy of Boiler Room's story peters out, the actors never let up, picking up the slack, carrying the film down the home stretch. Boiler Room cannot be called a completely successful debut for Younger, but it is an indisputable triumph for the young acting talent on board.
RATING: *** 1/2 (out of *****)
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